Parasailing: Flying A Thin Line

Parasailing

You can’t walk down a beach in South Florida without seeing its rainbow colors in the sky – parasailing is a part of the vacation-related services the sunshine state has to offer tourists and locals alike. Also called parascending or parakiting, parasailing involves a person being suspended into the air with a parasail wing (a type of parachute) while simultaneously being towed behind a boat.

The whole set up is a series of links with the person being strapped to the parasail wing through a harness, and the parasail wing being strapped to the boat with a tow line. According to the Parasailing Safety Council (PSC), about three to five million people partake in parasailing annually. As such, it is important for people to be aware of all the safety factors that go into parasailing so that they can enjoy a fun summer afternoon, and not fly a thin line of potential harm.

Even with the countless parasailing incidents each year, the watersport has no federal regulations governing its operations, equipment inspections or standards. The one federal rule in place is from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which requires that parasailers not reach a height greater than 500 feet above ground, to limit interference with air travel.

Why Do Parasailing Accidents Happen?

While there are plenty of ways one can safely enjoy parasailing, countless factors can make the activity quite dangerous. Here are some of those:

  1. Towline separation

At the end of the day, it’s a tow line that is keeping the person, parasail wing and harness all attached to the boat, and it can be that thin line you fly that changes the whole day. Injuries often occur when the towline breaks in the middle of the activity thus causing people to go flying into surrounding buildings, boats, or dropping into the water. In 2013, two teenage girls slammed into nearby condominiums after their parasail broke loose from a boat in Pompano Beach, Florida. In a statement from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conversation Commission, a representative stated “the towline detached and the riders were helpless to control the chute.”

  1. Equipment damage or failure

A lot of equipment goes into providing people with a safe and enjoyable time when parasailing. Remember all those links we mentioned earlier? The towline, which connects the harness/parachute to the vessel, is particularly important. Sadly, a lack of quality in the towline can become catastrophic. If the towline is left out in the sun too long heat damage can cause breaking, fraying or tearing of the material. Additionally, the longer the towline, the weaker it is. Another form of equipment failure is harness malfunction.

If the harness breaks opens during the activity, a person can be tossed several hundreds of feet into the water. This, sadly, can result in broken bones or even drowning. In 2012, Kathleen and her husband, Stephen Miskell, went parasailing off of Pompano Beach, Florida. Kathleen’s harness malfunctioned, opening during the activity, and dropped her approximately 200 feet into the water. Kathleen did not survive the fall.

  1. Unfavorable weather conditions

Harsh winds and rain can lead to dangerous conditions for parasailers. It is extremely important that one checks the weather before going out to sea. Thunderstorms and high winds can contribute to both towline separation and equipment failure. Additionally, in the case of towline separation or equipment failure, unfavorable weather conditions can make needed rescue efforts more difficult.

  1. Lack of operator training

If the operator of the vessel is not properly trained, they could contribute to an increased chance of injury. Especially since parasailing is not federally regulated, it is important to choose a business you can trust. Inexperienced operators are ill-prepared to handle changes in weather, or smaller mishaps.

The Regulations in Place

After multiple catastrophes on Florida beaches Florida Statute 327.375, also known as the White-Miskell Act, was passed. The state statute regulates commercial parasailing, in part stating that:

  • The owner or operator of a vessel engaged in commercial parasailing must obtain and maintain a liability insurance policy covering at least $1 million per occurrence and $2 million annual aggregate.
  • The operator of a vessel engaged in commercial parasailing must maintain a valid boating license issued by the United States Coat Guard. The license must be one that authorizes carrying passengers “for hire.”
  • The vessel must be equipped with a VHF marine transceiver and “a separate electronic device capable of access to National Weather Service forecasts and current weather conditions.”
    • Commercial parasailing is prohibited if wind speeds reach 20 miles per hour or if wind gusts are 15 miles per hour higher than the sustained wind speed.
    • Additionally, commercial parasailing is prohibited if rain or heavy fog results in reduced visibility of less than ½ a mile.
    • Commercial parasailing is prohibited if a known lightning storm is within 7 miles of the parasailing area.
  • Any violations of the above-mentioned section is punishable as a second-degree misdemeanor.

Contact Mase Mebane Seitz For Legal Help

If you have been injured during a parasailing excursion or know someone who has, contact our office immediately. Our team of experienced maritime attorneys can help you seek justice for your accident. Call us today to get started: (844) 627-3529.